The combine is a chance for teams to get a closer look at the players they've seen on film; to have them each medically checked by NFL doctors and put some concrete numbers to their measurables like height, weight, agility, speed, strength and explosion.
While the results of the last week in Indy are just a piece of the puzzle, the Patriots already have their favorite prospects. Their performance both on the field and behind-the-scenes will have nearly every prospect headed up or down the draft boards around the league.
Here's six under-the-radar prospects who the Pats should've been watching at the Combine.
All stats via NFL.com.
Dakota Dozier is a left tackle from Furman who projects inside to guard or possibly center in the NFL. He didn't set the world on fire with his combine numbers, but he has the necessary size (6'4", 313 points), length (33 7/8 inch arms) and temperament that the Patriots require.
With starting center Ryan Wendell a free agent and starting guard Dan Connolly a possible cut due to his sizeable cap hit, per Spotrac, the Patriots could see as many as two starters inside their offensive line depart. Regardless, they could use an influx of young talent around Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon.
Even with the departure of long-time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, the Pats will look to keep their depth in their interior line well-stocked and a versatile player like Dozier could fit the bill.
With Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly's futures uncertain, the Pats should be looking to reinforce their defensive line this offseason both through free agency and the draft.
Reid doesn't fit the traditional two-gap defensive tackle model and is still raw from playing in the Ivy League, but he has the size and quickness to develop into a solid interior pass-rusher.
At 6'2" and 300 pounds, Reid has classic one-gap defensive tackle size and he's always active as a penetrator, just the kind of role the Patriots need to fill. He was also a captain and is young and still developing.
The Patriots excel at finding good value in the later rounds and allowing their elite coaching to develop the player. Reid could be a great candidate to work with.
There's much uncertainty surrounding the Patriots' receiving corps this offseason. Not as much as last year, but with Julian Edelman a free agent, and the development of Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins unknown, the Pats could very well be in the market for wide receivers this spring.
Quincy Enunwa is a low-round option who has the traits the Pats like for their wide receivers. He's versatile enough to play any receiver spot, has perfect intangibles and leadership, and he will be just 22 years old this season. He also has the kind of football IQ and intensity in his blocking the Patriots require.
At 6'2" and 225 pounds, he has the size to be a physical force and with 4.40 speed in the 40-yard dash, he could bring an element of stretching the field.
The Patriots could do just about anything at wide receiver in the draft, whether it's taking one high or ignoring the position all together. But someone like Enunwa would be a low-risk investment who could pay off down the road.
It was clearly evident in the AFC Championship—if you want to beat Tom Brady, the best way to get him off his game is with pressure up the middle. Ryan Wendell, the Pats' starter for the past two seasons, is gritty and smart but undersized and has not been able to shore up his pass protection issues.
He was dominated by Terrence Knighton consistently in the AFC Championship.
Now, with Wendell a free agent, the door is open to evaluate the position and potentially bring in a draft pick to solidify the middle of the line.
Jonotthan Harrison has better size (6'3", 304 pounds) than Wendell and also has elite explosion, as demonstrated by his third-best broad jump for his position. Described as a "well-respected, articulate player," Harrison seems to have the intangibles the Pats look for.
He may need time to develop, but his size and athleticism would be a welcome addition to the Pats' offensive line.
Tom Brady has four more seasons left on his contract with the Patriots, so the perfect time to start developing his replacement is now.
Jeff Matthews had the slowest 40 time for a QB, but for quarterbacks it's less about the measurables (see Brady's combine performance) and more about desire. Matthews has the desire and leadership to be an NFL quarterback, especially if given a couple seasons to learn behind Brady.
Matthews is a traditional pocket passer in the mold of Brady and Ryan Mallett and if Bill Belichick chooses to stay with that model post-Brady, Matthews could be a great fit. As Brady proved in 2001, Belichick can work with a young quarterback who makes good decisions with the football even if they're aren't overly athletic.
Matthews would have a chance to learn from the best and get elite coaching and he just might blossom into a potential replacement for Brady when the time comes.
The Patriots' needs at tight end this offseason are clear—Rob Gronkowski is recovering from ACL surgery and he's the only tight end on the roster. The Pats not only need insurance behind Gronkowski at the "Y" tight end spot, but they were also never able to replace Aaron Hernandez at the "F" position.
Finding a steady "Y" that can at least hold the fort until Gronkowski returns should be a priority in free agency, finding an "F" is a little less of a need and can be addressed in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft.
It might scare some to replace Hernandez with a fellow Florida Gator, but Trey Burton has excellent athleticism and could help replicate some of the mismatches Hernandez excelled at creating.
Burton blew up at the combine, being a top performer in the 40-yard dash (4.62 seconds), three-cone drill (7.14 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.32 seconds). At 6'2" and 224 pounds, Burton doesn't have Hernandez's size and thus might be limited even more as a blocker, but he's a versatile player who saw time at quarterback, wide receiver and fullback along with tight end.
Burton could be just the kind of versatile weapon the Pats need to take their attack to the next level.